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Computer Assisted Language Learning

ISSN: 0958-8221 (Print) 1744-3210 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ncal20

Self-regulated out-of-class language learning with


technology
Chun Lai & Mingyue Gu
To cite this article: Chun Lai & Mingyue Gu (2011) Self-regulated out-of-class language
learning with technology, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24:4, 317-335, DOI:
10.1080/09588221.2011.568417
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2011.568417

Published online: 24 Jun 2011.

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Date: 13 September 2015, At: 18:36

Computer Assisted Language Learning


Vol. 24, No. 4, October 2011, 317335

Self-regulated out-of-class language learning with technology


Chun Laia* and Mingyue Gub
Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; bDepartment of English,
Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

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Current computer-assisted language learning (CALL) research has identied


various potentials of technology for language learning. To realize and maximize
these potentials, engaging students in self-initiated use of technology for language
learning is a must. This study investigated Hong Kong university students use of
technology outside the classroom to self-regulate their language learning. It
showed that these students were actively engaged in the use of technology, but
there were variations both among the students and in the aspects of language
learning that they opted to support using technology. More importantly, this
study unraveled the factors that inuenced their selective use of technology in
language learning.
Keywords: CALL; computer literacy; attitudes; self-regulated learning; out-ofschool learning

Introduction
Technology opens up various potentials for language learning: access to native
speakers and peer learners of the language around the world, easy 24/7 access to a
wide array of instructional and authentic language learning materials and learning
support, construction of and exposure to engaging learning experience and
environments, and facilitation of the construction of positive learner identities, to
name just a few (Thorne, Black & Sykes, 2009; Zhao & Lai, 2007). Decades of
research literature on technology-enhanced language learning has attested to the
various facets of the power of technology for language learning (Chapelle, 2010;
Zhao, 2003), and these educational potentials are expected both to enhance language
instruction inside the classroom and to extend language education beyond the
classroom. However, classrooms have proved to be most resistant to change due to
the various constraints that formal instructional contexts are subject to (Collins &
Halverson, 2009; Cuban, 2001). Thus, the power of technology for language learning
may best be realized and maximized outside the language classroom, since after all, it
is the learners acceptance of the value of technology and their eective use of
technology that really matter. Technology provides venues and makes it easy for
learners to regulate their language learning (McLoughlin & Lee, 2010). However, are

*Corresponding author. Email: laichun@hku.hk


ISSN 0958-8221 print/ISSN 1744-3210 online
2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2011.568417
http://www.informaworld.com

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language learners ready to embrace technology to regulate their learning so as to


create optimal and self-fullling language learning experiences for themselves?
The existing literature has a lot to oer in terms of the educational power of
individual technologies, ecacy of pedagogical uses of individual technologies,
design of technology-enhanced learning environments, and users reactions to
technology-enhanced teaching and learning experiences. There have also been
research studies focusing on learners that report on their reactions to particular
pedagogical uses of individual technologies and to integrative distance language
courses. However, the current literature is not in a good position to answer the
question raised above concerning learners autonomous use of technology for
language learning. The current study intends to provide some insights into the issue
and thus enhance our understanding of learners self-regulated use of technology
outside the classroom for language learning.
Literature review
Language learning outside the classroom
Acknowledging that learning is distributed among multiple settings and across a
multitude of resources, Barron (2004) put forward the notion of learning ecology,
which he dened as the accessed set of contexts, comprised of congurations of
activities, material resources and relationships, found in co-located physical or
virtual spaces that provide opportunities for learning (p. 6). According to him, a
learners overall learning ecology consists of various settings, physical or virtual,
both in and out of school, and thus, to understand learning, we need to take into
account what learners are going through both in and out of school. Similarly,
Sefton-Green (2006) challenged educators to broaden their horizons of learning and
to consider seriously the wider ecology of learning (p. 4). He argued that learning
in out-of-school settings needs to be accorded status and understanding as we seek to
enhance the education system more generally (p. 6). In alignment with these
arguments and focusing specically on language learning, Benson (2008) pointed out
that classroom learning is only one of several forms of learners engagement with
language learning. As a matter of fact, previous studies have reported that successful
language learners often attribute their achievements in language learning to active
engagement with the target language beyond the classroom (Lamb, 2002; Nunan,
1991; Pickard, 1996). Studies have also suggested a positive association between outof-class learning and language gains (Gan, Humphreys, & Hamp-Lyons, 2004;
Inozu, Sahinkarakas, & Yumru, 2010; Shen Tseng, Kuo, Su, & Chen, 2005). Thus,
researchers are challenging the narrow view that regards the classroom as the main
arena of foreign language learning and are calling for more research to examine
language learners self-initiated learning eorts beyond the classroom (Benson, 2006,
2008; Gao, 2009).
Existing studies of out-of-class language learning have generally shown that
second language learners engage in a variety of learning activities outside the
classroom. Freeman (1999) examined how learners of French and English as a
second language (ESL) learners at two UK universities allocated their time for
language learning and found that both groups, one studying the language in the
target language community and the other studying the language in the foreign
language context, demonstrated a clear predominance of out-of-class activity
time over in-class activity time, with the ESL students spending 88% of the time in

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out-of-class language learning. Similar ndings on learners active and purposeful


involvement with the language outside the classroom have been reported in several
other studies. For instance, Pearson (2004) surveyed Chinese international students in
an Academic English class at a New Zealand university and found that the majority
of these learners resorted to a variety of venues and resources (e.g. TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, movies, the Internet, and conversation with other students) to
improve their English skills. The students further reported that these out-of-class
learning activities brought them more enjoyment and learning than their classroombased learning. University students who were learning English as a foreign language
(EFL) in various regions, such as Hong Kong (Hyland, 2004; Spratt, Humphreys, &
Chan, 2002), Turkey (Inozu et al., 2010), and Taiwan (Shen et al., 2005), also reported
a similar array of out-of-class learning activities despite slight variations in frequency.
Similar activities were also found to be common among junior high school students
based on case studies of a few motivated Indonesian English learners (Lamb, 2004).
Murray (2008) recorded the language learning experiences of a few successful adult
Japanese EFL learners and found that engagement with pop culture, such as movies,
TV programs, music, novels, and magazines, was a signicant part of their language
learning outside the classroom and played a prominent role in their language
learning. Thus, these various accounts of dierent population groups from all over
the world have shown that language learners are actively engaging in self-initiated
learning activities beyond the classroom.
These out-of-class language learning activities have been found to serve a variety
of functions in addition to providing extra language learning resources and
opportunities, such as: shaping a positive learner identity and hence maintaining
motivation for learning (Lamb, 2007), providing learners with a friendly and
supportive learning community and oering learners a place for self-expression and
for enhancing their self-perception (Gao, 2009). At the same time, researchers have
found that learners out-of-class learning activities are subject to the impact of their
social/political contexts and their personal attitudes and situations. Hyland (2004)
gave a nice account of the interaction between socio/political factors and learners
selective out-of-class learning activities among Cantonese-speaking English language
students at a university in Hong Kong: the negative social connotations that the use
of English carried in the Cantonese community restrained the university English
language learners from using English in face-to-face, public, activities such as
speaking English with friends, talking on the phone and talking to people in shops.
Furthermore, the language proles of learners immediate living environments, the
requirements of the study situation (e.g. assessment regime), and social networks
(Chusanachoti, 2009; Pearson, 2004) have all been found to aect students selection
of out-of-class activities. In addition to these socio-political factors, various
idiosyncratic factors such as learners views of the language and their personal
identity, their language prociency levels, and their L2 motivation are also
associated with their out-of-class activities (Chusanachoti, 2009; Hyland, 2004;
Pearson, 2004; Spratt et al., 2002).
Use of technology in out-of-class language learning
This section reviews the literature that focuses specically on learners use of
information and communication technologies (ICTs) outside the classroom.
The reason for focusing on the technological venues and resources for out-of-class

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language learning is that technology holds great educational potentials for


language learning (Thorne et al., 2009; Zhao & Lai, 2007) and constitutes an
important learning space in the ecology of learning (Benson, 2006; Greenhow,
Robelia, & Hughes, 2009; Sefton-Green, 2006). Previous studies have established
an association between home computer use and academic learning outcomes: in
one study, access to home computers increased teenagers likelihood of
graduating from high school by 68% and was associated with a 0.22 point
increase in grade point average (Beltran, Das, & Fairlie, 2006). The use of
technology outside the language classroom has also been shown to have a
signicant impact on language learning. For instance, in Lams (2000, 2004) case
studies on English language learners in the US who had been identied as failures
in the instructional context, the learners had the initiative to use technologies
such as an online transborder community and a bilingual chat-room, out of
school, and they established and thrived in their new social and ethnic identities
as active and condent English users in those virtual spaces. Similarly, Blacks
(2006) ethnographic study on adolescent English language learners out-of-class
activities on a pop ction sharing and critiquing site, Fanction, showed that
these learners exploited the social, textual, and technological elements in this
networked community to scaold and promote their L2 literacy development and
strengthen their identity as writers. Thus, considering the large amount and
variety of technological resources and venues available to enable learners to
engage with the language on their own, it is important to understand how
language learners are using technology to regulate their language learning
experience.
The studies reviewed in the previous section suggested that technology, such as
TV, radio, and movies, has been a part of the repertoire of language learners out-ofclass activities. However, these studies were not able to give us the landscape of
learners self-initiated use of technology, especially ICTs, to support out-of-class
language learning. We only came across two recent studies that discussed learners
self-initiated use or readiness to use technology for language learning. In the rst
study, Winke and Goertler (2008) gave a prole of university foreign language
students use of technology for language learning. Surveying 911 beginner-level
foreign language students at an American university on their use and perceptions
of technology for language learning, the authors found that the students use of
technology for language learning was restrained. There was little and limited use of
technologies for language learning purposes either in or outside the classroom,
despite the very frequent use of a wide range of technologies for entertainment or
infotainment. Furthermore, students were generally found to lack the appropriate
literacy to use technologies for language learning purposes, and few students in their
study (less than 25%) realized the language learning potentials of the various
technologies they used frequently in their daily lives. In the second study, Zhang
(2010) delved deeper to unravel the factors that aected Chinese EFL learners
adoption of technology for language learning. She found that the university EFL
learners in her study did use technology to support their language learning (an
average of 13.23 hours per week). However, similar to Winke and Goertlers (2008)
ndings, the students use of technology was very limited: songs and movies were the
most frequently used (around four hours each week) technological means, and most
communication and Web 2.0 technologies (e.g. online chatting, blogs, and online
forums) were used less than 20 minutes each week. Most importantly, she discovered

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that the strength of each participants ego-centered network (i.e. the average English
prociency in the learners immediate social network, and the ease of access to the
alters in the network) was the strongest predictor of their frequency in using
technology to support English learning. These studies suggest that contemporary
students are not using technology or perceiving the value of technology (especially
the communication and Web 2.0 technologies) for language learning outside school
as frequently as we would expect based on their prolic use of technology in
everyday life. While the above two studies yielded valuable information on the
frequency of learners use of technology to engage in language learning and on
the factors that predict its frequency, they could not inform us about the complex
nature of this technology use. Namely, how are language learners selecting different technologies to fulll or support their dierent language learning purposes
and needs?
Research questions
This study attempted to enrich our understanding of language learners self-initiated
use of technology from a new angle: how are language learners using technology to
regulate their language learning experience? Self-regulated learning (SRL) was
adopted as the theoretical framework to guide our exploration because of the close
association between SRL and technology-enhanced learning (Bernacki, Aguilar, &
Byrnes, 2011; Steens, 2006). On the one hand, technology-enhanced learning
environments provide opportunities for, and foster the development of, SRL abilities
(Carneiro, Lefrere, & Steens, 2007); and on the other hand, technology-enhanced
learning environments are best used by learners with SRL abilities, and SRL
enhances learning outcomes (Hannan & Hannan, 2010; Winters, Greene, &
Costich, 2008).
According to Zimmerman (2000), self-regulation of learning is a process by
which learners direct and coordinate their eorts, thoughts, and feelings in order to
achieve their learning goals. Over the years, our understanding of self-regulation of
learning has evolved from a heavy emphasis on meta-cognition into a recognition of
its multidimensional nature, including the regulation of the cognitive, metacognitive,
socio-aective, and behavioral processes and conditions that aect learning (Bown,
2009; Dembo, Junge, & Lynch, 2006). Current inuential socio-cognitive models of
SRL have suggested several dimensions of SRL: meta-cognition regulation (e.g. goal
commitment, planning, and monitoring), cognition regulation (e.g. employing and
monitoring cognitive strategies), motivation and aect regulation (e.g. monitoring
and adjusting aective states, making learning attractive), environment regulation
(e.g. creating favorable learning environments through seeking various physical and
social resources), and behavior regulation (e.g. time and eort management)
(Dorney, 2001; Pintrich, 2004). In this study, we examined the nature of language
learners selective use of technology on their own to regulate the various aspects of
their language learning experience. Specically, we attempted to answer two research
questions:
(1) How do the language learners use technology to regulate their language
learning experience outside the classroom?
(2) What aects the language learners use of technology in self-regulating
language learning?

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Methodology
Participants
The participants were 279 language learners who were taking second or foreign
language courses at the University of Hong Kong. The participants were studying a
variety of languages, including Chinese, English, German, French, Japanese,
Spanish, and Korean. They elected to participate in this study in response to a
mass email request.

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Materials
The study was based on two main data sources: an online survey and semi-structured
interviews. The survey consisted of seven sections: (1) 18 Likert-scale questions on
students perceptions of their self-regulation of language learning in general (Dorney,
2001); (2) seven Likert-scale questions on students language learning beliefs; (3) 42
Likert-scale questions on students self-initiated use of technology for language
learning. These items were all on a scale from one, strongly disagree, to six, strongly
agree, and were constructed in the light of the dimensions highlighted in most sociocognitive models of SRL (Dorney, 2001; Pintrich, 2000, 2004; Zimmerman, 2000) as
well as the various contributions of technology to language learning reinforced in the
current technology-enhanced language learning literature (Ducate & Arnold, 2006;
Zhao & Lai, 2007); (4) self-report of their knowledge, usage, and perceived value of 20
ICTs in language learning; (5) a 19-item self-assessment on computer literacy; (6) selfreport on their access to eight computer hardware components; and (7) demographic
and language learning backgrounds (e.g. age, major, year of study, motivation for
learning the language, years of studying the language, etc.). The instrument was pilot
tested on three foreign language learners at this university for their understanding of
each item in the survey, and then in an online format on 23 foreign language learners to
determine the time needed to complete the online survey and for additional issues
concerning the survey. Rephrasing of survey items and reformatting of the survey was
done based on the pilot tests.
The interview questions were based on each invited participants survey
responses and were intended to elicit their reasons for, and various factors that
aected, their selective use of technologies to regulate their language learning (see
Appendix).
Procedure
The survey was administered in the spring of 2010. The study was announced
through a few course coordinators of foreign language departments in the School of
Modern Languages and instructors of large-size courses in the Centre for Applied
English Studies who oered their help upon request. The online survey was delivered
to the students via mass emails. As a result, 279 students completed the online
survey. Twenty students were contacted for follow-up interviews, and 18 students
participated. The students were purposively sampled from the high-user, mediumuser, and low-user groups based on their survey responses so as to obtain a
comprehensive view of the reasons behind their selective use or non-use of
technologies for language learning. Interviews were conducted on a one-on-one
basis, and each interview lasted around one hour.

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Data analyses
An exploratory factor analysis was conducted on students self-reported use of
technology in self-regulating their language learning. Coecient alpha and item-tototal correlations were used to spot and remove garbage items. Principal axis factor
analysis was used as the extraction technique and promax as the rotation method on
the remaining 38 items. Three commonly employed decision rules were applied to
identify the factors underlying the self-regulated technology-assisted foreign
language learning construct: (1) using scree plot and minimum Eigen value of 1 to
decide the cuto value for extraction; (2) deleting items with factor loadings less than
0.32 on all factors; and (3) a simple factor structure. The 18 items on learners SRL in
general were tabulated, and an average score was calculated to indicate learners
disposition towards self-regulated language learning. The seven language learning
belief items were categorized into: (i) belief in language learning as acquiring the
knowledge system taught in the language classroom, and (ii) belief in language
learning through using the language outside the language classroom. An average
score was calculated for each category for each participant since language learning
belief is not dichotomous but rather on a continuum. Correlation analysis and t-test
were used to reveal the associations between some technological, language learning,
and demographic variables and dierent dimensions of technology use in selfregulating language learning.
The interview data were analysed inductively to identify the general themes that
illustrated the various factors that aected their decisions to use (or not to use)
technology to regulate particular aspects of their language learning experience. The
researchers read the entire corpus to generate common themes among the interviews,
and then segments of texts that illustrated each theme were pooled across individuals
and grouped under the relevant themes. Segments of texts that elaborated on
dierent categories of technology use in self-regulating language learning identied
from the survey data were also pooled across individuals to check whether they were
recurring themes in the interview data as well.
Results
Demographic, language and technological proles of the participants
The average age of the participants was 21 years. Thirty-four percent were male and
64% were female. Among the participants, 42% were rst-year undergraduate
students, 50% were in year two or year three of undergraduate study, and only 8%
were postgraduate and above. The participants were from diverse disciplinary
backgrounds, with only 28% from a language and culture study background.
Ninety-three percent of participants reported Chinese (either Mandarin or
Cantonese) as their native language. Of the 279 participants, 104 were in their rst
year of language study, 49 in their second, 42 in their third year, and 64 had been
studying the language for more than three years. Twenty-four percent of the
participants were learning a resource rich language1 (i.e. Chinese and English), and
75% were learning a resource lacking language (e.g. German, Spanish, etc.) (the rest
did not identify the language they were studying). For 98 participants, the language
was either their major or minor; 79 participants were taking the course as an elective;
52 participants were taking it because it was required of their major; and 58
participants were taking it for certication or for fun. A high percentage of the

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participants reported either ownership or easy access to ICT: 99% for computers and
the Internet, 97% for mobile phones, 90% for headphones and microphones, and
76% for MP3 players. All the participants had begun to use computers in junior high
school, and they reported spending an average of 5.12 hours per day on the
computer, ranging from 1 to 16 hours. The majority of them rated themselves as being
able to use most ready-made technological applications on their own or with minimum
help. However, a large number of them reported having either no prior experience with
or little skill in self-initiated use of various Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, online
conferencing or online communities. The participants also reported limited knowledge
of how various technologies could be used for language learning. For instance, around
30% of the participants did not know how to use common communication tools (e.g.
text messaging, social networking sites, blogs, and online chatting) for language
learning purposes despite their frequent use of them in daily life, and the majority of
those who had tried such tools in language learning did not perceive these tools as
useful. Thus, the participants in this study matched the technological proles reported
in previous studies (Winke & Goertler, 2008; Zhang, 2010), i.e. relatively high access to
technologies, frequent everyday use of technology and high self ecacy in general
technological prociency, but limited knowledge about the use of technology, especially
communication tools, for language learning.
How did the participants use technology to regulate their language learning experience?
The participants reported using technology to regulate their language learning
outside the classroom despite the low frequency of technology use in their language
classrooms. The majority of the participants (69%) reported that technologies had
been used in their language classrooms less than two hours per week in the past six
months, and only 14% reported their classroom using technologies more than four
hours per week. In stark contrast, 54% of the participants reported using
technologies for language learning outside the classroom more than four hours
per week, 14% of whom had been using technologies for language learning more
than 14 hours per week. Only 10% of the participants used technology outside the
classroom less than one hour per week.
The interview data also suggested that the participants were using technology, to
varying degrees, to regulate their language learning out of class. Most of them
perceived their language learning environment in a broad sense (e.g. I think that
environment is not just in the classroom but outside the classroom too). Although,
for the majority of them, classroom instruction and the immediate physical
environment (e.g. restaurants, friends) outside the classroom were regarded as the
most important part of their learning experience, they did perceive technologyenhanced out-of-class learning experience very positively: some sensed that they
learned more of the target language outside the class; others felt that the noncompulsory nature of the out-of-class learning made it seldom boring, and they
observed that their classmates tended to use the target language a lot and didnt mind
talking to each other since the environment was less intimidating. Participants
reported employing a variety of technologies for language learning: they used online
dictionaries, updated their status in the target language on Facebook and read and
commented on their classmates and friends wall in the target language, used Youtube
to nd interesting audiovisual materials, went to online forum to read what other
people were discussing, read online news, and MSNed their classmates and friends.

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As for the nature of their technology use, the exploratory factor analysis yielded
six distinct factors that could explain 60.3% of the variance in their use of technology
to regulate their language learning experience. The six aspects of technology-enhanced
self-regulation of language learning included using technology: to regulate emotions
and enhance the attraction of learning; to plan, evaluate, and monitor their learning
progress; to enhance social connections with and seek help from native speakers and
other peer learners around the world; to encourage oneself to persevere and commit to
the learning goal; to seek and expand learning resources; and to enhance cultural
understanding. Among the six factors, the participants reported positive perception of
and engagement with the use of technology for goal commitment regulation, resource
regulation, cultural learning regulation, and aection regulation. In contrast, their
response to the use of technology to connect with native speakers and seek help from
peer learners around the world was the least positive and showed the most variation
among all the technology use categories (see Table 1).
In the interviews, participants gave examples of their use of these six categories of
technology-enhanced self-regulation of language learning. Participants reported
instances where they used technologies to seek opportunities for authentic language
use (e.g. Sometimes we use the language we learnt recently: in the lecture we learned
how to express our feelings; we used these new words on Facebook afterwards), to elicit
cultural information (e.g. I text Spanish friends to learn more about culture, like how
they would treat a person, and what kind of things they would say. For example, Id text
a person oh, Im ill today and see what kind of blessing or greeting they send back),
and to broaden their social connections (e.g. It builds up a social circle, so then I get to
know people who speak Spanish. Its not just for language learning purposes, but
actually its social). There were also reported instances where they used technologies to
create interesting learning experiences (e.g. sometimes when Im bored, I did go online
and search for some Italian music and some short videos on Youtube, because they are
fun) and to extend their study hours (e.g. When I was at home, I would push myself to
use technology, coz it is the only thing I have). They also reported instances where they
used technologies to motivate themselves to commit to their learning goals (e.g. I will
go to Youtube to see movies and remind myself why I want to do it in the rst place; like
you want to go to Spain and you have to learn some Spanish, because it will be rude if
you cant speak the language and just go and speak English all the time), and actively
to assess their current level of language prociency (e.g. I like to Facebook and email a
person who is good at English to see if I can make myself understand).
The participants use of technology also changed over time. For instance, one
interviewee recounted her experience of using technology across the two years of
Table 1. How do learners use technology to self-regulate language learning experience?
Types of technology use
Goal commitment regulation
Resource regulation
Aection regulation
Culture learning regulation
Metacognition regulation
Social connection regulation

Mean

SD

4.68
4.63
4.40
4.50
3.78
3.17

0.89
0.88
0.86
0.87
0.81
1.24

Note: The value was based on a 6-item Likert scale, with 1 being strongly disagree and 6 being strongly
agree.

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Spanish learning: she did not use any technology in the rst semester since she couldnt
understand songs and thus lost motivation to seek other technology-delivered
authentic materials; in the second semester, she started to use an online dictionary and
translators a lot to help comprehend texts; and then starting from the second year, she
began to use online chatting programs when her condence in her Spanish prociency
increased after a summer study-abroad program. Not only did the types of
technologies she opted to use change, but the nature of technology use changed
over time as well: in the beginning, her use of technology was just for entertainment
and to get a taste of what the language was really like; but it then evolved into more
intentional learning plans. Similar changes over time in the selection of technology and
the nature of technology use were reported by quite a few interviewees.
At the same time, the interview data also showed that the participants seldom
used and were skeptical about using technology to create social learning
opportunities and support beyond their immediate social network. The majority
of them only used online technologies, such as MSN and Facebook, to connect with
their classmates or native-speaker friends from previous schooling or study-abroad
experience. They generally expressed discomfort in interacting with native speakers.
The few who did go to online forums or online learner communities simply observed
and did not participate in seeking help actively from peer learners around the world
(e.g. Ill go to the discussion forum to see what other people talk, but I feel its very
strange to post).
Thus, we found that participants in this study did use technology to regulate their
language learning and perceived such experience positively. They reported using a
variety of technologies selectively to fulll various learning purposes and needs at
dierent stages of their learning. However, they were not positive about using
technology to expand their social connections and support.

What aected learners use of technology in self regulating language learning?


What were the factors behind selective use of technology for language learning?
Both the factor analysis and interview data revealed that the participants responded
least positively to the use of technology to regulate social connections and support. It
is imperative to understand the reasons behind this since one of the major claimed
potentials of technology is to expand learners social venues and learning
communities (Kern, Ware, & Warschauer, 2008; Thorne et al., 2009). The stranger
eect was a recurring theme in the interview data. Most participants felt it dangerous
to talk with strangers online due to security reasons (e.g. there are so many negative
news of chatting with strangers, so I use Internet to communicate with the one I really
know, but I wont add those strangers; and Im not comfortable in engaging
conversation with strangers online because I dont know their background and I dont
know whether they are speaking the truth). Another common concern the
participants expressed was the lack of common topics and the concern about not
being able to nd people sharing similar interests (e.g. You cannot always asking
your partner What are you doing these days? and then he replies and then you have
nothing to say; and I just nd it weird to look for people I dont know, and its hard
to talk to a person you dont know). Some participants were also not condent
about their prociency level in conducting online interaction (e.g. The content of
conversation with native speakers can be very complicated. Maybe related to culture,

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politics, religion, something like that. Im not procient to speak in that complicated
content. So this discourages me; and Im afraid of committing very serious
mistakes and the person couldnt understand what Im trying to say, so Ill feel quite
embarrassed). And there were others who chose not to connect with native speakers
online because they were afraid of not getting error feedback from them (e.g. If she is
French, she may think that you are a beginner, so its normal that you make mistake,
she will not tell you the mistakes you make during the conversation). Thus, for
various reasons, the participants were not keen on engaging in social activities via
technology with people beyond their immediate circle of friends or classmates.
Furthermore, we found that various individual factors were dierentially
associated with or aected the aspects of language learning that learners chose to
regulate using technologies. First, participants self-regulated language learning
dispositions were found to be strongly associated with their use of technology to
plan and monitor their learning progress (r 0.59), and moderately associated with
the rest of the technology use categories except culture learning (ranging from r 0.32
to r 0.43). All the correlations were statistically signicant. Thus, in line with the
general literature on SRL (Bernacki et al., 2011), self-regulated language learning was
found to be closely related to learner-initiated use of technology for language learning.
Second, participants language learning beliefs were associated with their
technology-enhanced self-regulation: a stronger belief in seeking language use
opportunities beyond the classroom was positively associated with participants
likelihood of using technology to regulate their learning, especially to expand
learning resources (r 0.30) and to commit to learning goals (r 0.33). In contrast,
the correlations between a knowledge-oriented belief (i.e. whats learned in language
classroom was sucient and language learning was about gaining a good
understanding of the linguistic system) and dierent categories of technology use
were negative and approaching zero. The association between participants language
learning beliefs and their technology use was a recurring theme in the interview data
as well. Most of the participants believed that building foundational knowledge
about, and skills in, the language is a prerequisite for using the language in authentic
contexts. For instance, when prompted on why she did not go online to nd native
speakers to chat with, an interviewee responded: I even cant manage the language
stu in my class, so I shouldnt go outside to nd other resource. One participant
elaborated on how her approach to learning determined her selective use of
technology at dierent stages of learning Italian: When learning a language, at the
start I usually approached it in a more passive way, say to acquire the grammar,
reading and writing. When I feel I have basic prociency in reading and writing, I
expanded this learning into a more interactive and practical level: to try to speak and
listen to that language. Because of such language learning beliefs, some participants
felt that allotting the limited time they had for learning the language to building the
language foundations was a more ecient way to learn.
Students learning history and habits also had an impact on their decision on
whether or not to utilize technology to regulate their learning. One interviewee
commented that he preferred the physical learning environment over a virtual
environment to regulate his language learning outside the class. When prompted
about the reasons behind this, he said: when I was young, I learned mainly from
teachers and reading books . . . I nd [online technology] helpful but I dont prefer to
use it, because my previous learning experience tells me that using physical
environment will be more rewarding.

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Third, learners prociency levels, or rather their perceptions thereof, aected


whether they used technology to seek language learning resources and opportunities.
Participants who had been studying the language for more than four years were found
to show a greater tendency, although not statistically signicant, to use technology to
regulate their social connections and support than those with less than four years of
learning experience (t 1.73, p 0.08). One participant talked about how her
changed perception of her prociency level in Italian after a study-abroad experience
made her decide to adopt technology to regulate learning: In my rst year of learning
Italian, I usually review my textbook. But in the second year, after I found that I could
communicate in Italian during study-abroad in Italy that summer, I prefer to use more
information technology because its more interactive. Another participant who had a
half-year experience learning German and a two-year experience learning Italian talked
about how her dierent prociency levels in these two languages led to dierent
experiences with Facebook: For several months, I changed language display into
Italian, and it helped me to learn more Italian vocabulary . . . But recently, I tried to
switch that display into German, and I found that I couldnt learn German as
eectively as I did in Italian simply because Im not procient in German.
Fourth, the participants limited knowledge about and access to useful
technology-enhanced learning materials and venues also constrained their active
engagement with technology to support their language learning outside the classroom. Lack of easy access to useful material was reported as one major challenge they
encountered in their self-initiated eorts in using technology for language learning
(e.g. Its not easy to nd a good website or some very good resources). The majority
of the participants also said that they lacked knowledge about potential technological
resources and how to use technology eectively for language learning, and regarded it
as another major obstacle. For instance, one participant commented: I think I
have the technical skills, but I dont have the knowledge of how I can use it to help me
learn . . . I think if someone can show me how to use it eectively, and tell me she
experienced it herself and used it in this way, it would help me.
What were the factors behind learner variation in technology use?
Contrasting the interviewees who reported higher levels of engagement with
technology for learning to those who reported little use of technology suggested
several factors that could explain participants variation in technology use. Active
users of technology demonstrated higher digital literacy. Aware of but not thwarted
by the potential dangers online, they had strategies to reap the benets of online
chatting, but at the same time protect themselves. One strategy was not to reveal
personal information during online chatting: I dont give them my true
information, so they wont know anything about me. Another strategy was
triangulation in information evaluation: Some resources online Im not sure if they
are reliable: this website may say this, but the others say dierent things . . . I may
consult more people, like my professor, or my friends to nd out what is reliable.
Active users of technology also demonstrated metacognitive knowledge and
strategies on how to learn language through online chatting. One participant tuned
in to her interlocutors language production during online chatting and appropriated
the language critically and selectively: When I chat with native speakers online, I
pay attention to what kind of phrases they use, so I pick up a lot colloquial stu
rather than formal usage . . . Sometimes those vocabularies may be dangerous,

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because those street languages you learned may not be acceptable in classroom or in
exams. So you need to look it up in dictionary and make sure they are appropriate.
They also demonstrated certain levels of intercultural competency needed for crosscultural online communication: besides learning a language, we also learn the
culture. For example, I have some Spanish friends, and I know they tend to be direct
or forward, so if they say something I dont like, I have learnt not to take it too
personally and to think thats just their culture.
All the above factors worked together to bring about the dierences that learners
demonstrated in their engagement with technology in out-of-class language learning.
Discussion
In this study, we found that these Hong Kong university students did engage in using
technology to regulate dierent aspects of their language learning experience. However,
there was great diversity, especially in terms of their use of technology for social
purposes, and there were a number of reasons behind their apparent dierences in outof-class use of technology to regulate their language learning. Some of these reasons
were contextual variables, such as the length of study, which were not changeable.
Others were personal variables such as digital literacy, awareness of useful technologies
for language learning and metacognitive knowledge about how to use them eectively,
preparation for eective communication with native speakers, beliefs about learning in
general and language learning in particular. These personal variables are more likely to
be responsive to interventions, and thus, language educators need to work on ways to
help learners with those issues. In eect, various researchers have argued for the
importance of such preparation and support in eective technology use (Blake, 2008;
Hoven, 2006; Winke & Goertler, 2008), and some studies have already yielded positive
evidence for the ecacy of learner training in the eective use of online resources and
enhanced learning outcomes (OBryan, 2008; Romeo & Hubbard, 2008). Furthermore,
teachers at least need consciously to encourage and, more importantly, support their
students in their use of technology outside the classroom to regulate their language
learning, if not to integrate technology in their class instruction. This support could
take various formats, such as information on useful technologies and technological
resources, and guidance on how to use certain technological resources. Whatever
format teachers adopt, the crucial thing is to make this encouragement and support a
conscious eort and an important part of their language curriculum so as to help
students reap the benets of technology to support their language learning.
This study also suggested a mismatch between the prociency level of the
majority of the foreign language learners and the online authentic materials. More
than half of the participants in this study were at the beginning prociency level, and
most of them found the reading materials on online websites or in Facebook too
dicult to understand. This indicates the importance of bringing to students
attention the existence of authentic material engagement tools such as web
annotation tools (e.g. WordChamp: http://www.wordchamp.com/; WebNotes:
http://www.webnotes.net/) and speech rate adjustors (e.g. http://www.enounce.
com/). Unfortunately, such authentic material engagement tools were not very well
known among the participants. For instance, 39% of the participants had never used
online annotation tools, and 90% of the students had never heard of speech rate
adjustors. One interviewee recounted her failed attempt to use Facebook for
language learning despite her strong enthusiasm for this technology: I did some

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research on a website called Bibles. Its a Spanish facebook. I went there, but I didnt
have a clue of what it is, so I just close that thing. If she had had access to web
annotation tools to support her interaction with the Spanish version of Facebook
she had identied, she might have had a quite dierent experience in her out-of-class
adventure with this technology.
In line with previous studies, students use of Web 2.0 technologies in this study
was found to be quite limited (Winke & Goertler, 2008; Zhang, 2010). The most
frequently used Web 2.0 technology was Facebook, while blogs and wikis were the
least popular ones. Students in this study felt that writing blogs was not a costeective method of language learning: Say if I want to write a paragraph this long, it
will take up lots of, lots of time, so why dont I just start with basics like how the
grammar, how the sentences construct? I would rather spend more time on these
basics. More importantly, they tended to perceive blogs and wikis as very formal and
very serious. They perceived that the formal and time-consuming nature of blogs
and wikis might be the reasons behind their not being popular on students list of
technologies for out-of-class learning, since most of them felt that out-of-class
learning should be a motivating, relaxing, and intimate experience. For exactly this
reason, they preferred Facebook over blogs and wikis: I think we already have
Facebook where we can share our feelings, so we dont need to have so many websites
to manage. This seems to suggest that probably dierent technologies may nd their
niches in dierent contexts. Informal social networking tools like Facebook may well
justify their niches in the out-of-class learning context as some researchers are arguing
that moving Facebook into the formal learning context may change its nature and
hence reduce its learning potential (Hewitt & Forte, 2006; Lohnes & Kinzer, 2007).
On the other hand, blogs and wikis, which are regarded as formal and extremely timeconsuming for beginning and intermediate foreign language learners, may nd their
niches in the formal instructional context, or at least may need to be introduced in the
formal instructional context rst before nding their way into the out-of-class
context. One participant talked about how doing blogs as part of her foreign language
class was introduced into her out-of-class learning technology repertoire: At the
beginning, the teacher asked me to write a free blog for one semester, but I and my
friends probably own it like routine. Now it becomes a daily routine for me.
This study adopted SRL as the theoretical framework to understand the
students use of technology for language learning. This framework helped reveal the
exact nature of the students use of technology for language learning and shed light
on the motivation behind their use of technology for learning. It provided
information on the dierent learning purposes that their strategic technology use
served. Thus, this theoretical framework helped to enhance the depth of our
understanding of students use of technology for language learning. It could also
potentially serve as a useful framework to guide the development of intervention
programs to enhance students use of technology for language learning.
Conclusion
This study revealed that the language learners were using technology to engage in outof-class activities to regulate dierent aspects of their language learning experience,
which is quite encouraging. However, since the online survey was delivered to
students through mass emails, it might be possible that the sample was biased by
students who were more interested in or curious about technology and language

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learning. Thus, we are not claiming what we observed here is a general phenomenon
among Hong Kong university foreign language students, but rather we would like to
emphasize the point that students are strategic users of technology and are using
technology to regulate various aspects of their language learning. This study further
identied various factors that aected the participants selective use of technology for
language learning. This suggests that learner training, not only in language learning
beliefs (Ellis, 2008; Ewald, 2004), but also in metacognitive knowledge about
technology-enhanced language learning, is much needed to encourage students to use
technology actively to support their language learning. More research eorts are
needed to determine what sort of training is needed and how it should be carried out.
Since this study was conducted in Hong Kong, and a large proportion of the
participants were beginner-level students (56% were in the rst two years of learning
the language), more research is needed to look at whether the same pattern holds for
dierent cultural contexts and dierent student populations.
Note
1.

Resource rich languages refer to the languages, and the native speakers of those
languages, that students have easy access to in the immediate environment. English and
Chinese are the ocial languages in Hong Kong and thus are regarded as the resource rich
languages in this study.

Notes on contributors
Chun Lai is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, the University of Hong Kong.
Her interests include technology-enhanced language learning, task-based language teaching, and
technology integration. Her most recent project entails the development of a learner training
model to support learners autonomous use of technology for foreign language learning.
Mingyue Gu is an assistant professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Her research
interests include second language learning motivation, language learning identity. She has
published widely on language learning motivation and the construction of learner identity.

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Appendix. Survey items on learners self-regulated use of technology for language


learning
Do you use ICTs to organize your language learning experience? (ICT refers to Information
and Communication Technologies, technologies that enable you to access information or
connect/communicate with others, such as the Internet, online communities, online games,
online audio/video, online chatting, blogs, wiki, facebook, PDAs, MP3, mobile phones, etc.)

Aective

Metacognitive

Goal Commitment

ICTs are important sources and tools to maintain my interest


in achieving my language learning goal
I believe ICTs can help me persevere in reaching my ultimate
goal in learning the language
I believe ICTs can help me achieve my language learning goals
more quickly and eciently
I know how to use ICTs to eectively monitor myself to
achieve the learning goals at each stage
I plan learning tasks and relevant materials to do outside of
school that involve the use of ICTs
I adjust my language learning goals in response to the
information resources and communication venues I have
access to via ICTs
I am satised with the way I use ICTs to help myself persevere
in reaching my goal in learning the language
I set sub-goals for the next stage of learning in the light of how
much I can understand and produce when using ICTs to
acquire information or communicate with others
For the areas that Im weak in, I know how to select and use
appropriate ICTs to improve the areas
When I feel bored with learning the language, I use ICTs to
curtail the boredom and increase the enjoyment
I use ICTs to make the task of language learning more
attractive to me
I feel ICTs eectively maintain my interest and enthusiasm in
learning the language
When I start to resist learning the language, I use ICTs to help
myself regain the interest and enthusiasm in learning

Learning experience

Strongly
agree
Agree

Partly
agree

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Slightly
disagree
Disagree

(continued)

Strongly
disagree

334
C. Lai and M. Gu

ICTs help to make my language learning a relaxing process


ICTs make me enjoy learning the language more
I use ICTs to increase the time I spend on learning the
language
I use ICTs to connect with native speakers of the language
I use ICTs to connect with peer learners all over the world
I use ICTs to seek encouragement and support from other
learners of the language around the world
When I feel I need more learning resources in the language, I
use ICTs to expand my learning resources
I use ICTs to expand my learning experience beyond the
language classroom
I use ICTs to create and increase opportunities to learn and use
the language
I use ICTs to seek learning resources and opportunities to help
achieve my language learning goals
I seek engaging language learning materials and experience
delivered via ICTs
I use ICTs to seek answers to my questions about the language
and culture
I use ICTs to help myself understand and appreciate the target
culture better
I use ICTs to help myself to increase my ability to interact with
the target culture

Learning experience

Strongly
agree
Agree

Partly
agree

Slightly
disagree

Disagree

Strongly
disagree

Notes: The items in this table are presented according to dierent categories of self-regulated use of technology for language learning. In the real survey administered to the
participants, the items across dierent categories were mixed up.

Culture

Resource

Social

Appendix (Continued)

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